Q: How do you take an existing online magazine (using WordPress and lots of custom functionality) and upgrade it with the most up to date subscription services for users and for writers?

A: A great WordPress tech, of course, – some great custom work, top-notch plugins and patience.

Periodical: Chronicle of Social Change New Homepage
Periodical: Chronicle of Social Change New Homepage

The on-line periodical, Chronicle of Social Change, was first published in 2012, covering an array of subjects focused on juvenile justice, child welfare, and grants available to the industry. With tons of content – lots of custom post types – lots of categories – lots of tags – lots of different authors – some free and some paid content – and 12+ articles posted per week – an update would have to be managed skillfully. Chronicles recently updated the look and feel of their site, added mobile responsive functionality, maintained the look of a news publication, updated the end user / subscriber experience and changed much of how the WordPress admin panel handled the site.

Paid vs. free content

Having an online periodical has its challenges. Chronicle wanted to make sure that all of its content was crawled by search engines, [Google, Yahoo!, etc.] and found by potential customers… subscribers. Plus it wanted to encourage people to sign up as paid subscribers. In WordPress, the use of the Leaky Paywall plugin guaranteed that all posts and articles would be found in online searches – but it also limited the amount of content that could be read before having to subscribe An update to its functionality was needed to accomplish this – and to streamline processes for its staff and readers. Chronicle set up a few different levels of readers (full monthly subscribers, full yearly subscribers and free trial subscribers). Chronicle also has loads of free content [articles] that do not require any type of subscription.

Leaky Paywall - text in black , covers the articles text until the user signs up.
Leaky Paywall – text in black , covers the articles text until the user signs up.

Blogger revenue share

Chronicles has been creative with generating in-depth content. It has a core base of writers within their organization, yet it contracts with expert bloggers to create additional content. Bloggers write about the youth services field (usually opinion based), publish the articles on the site and are paid by a revenue sharing program designed by Chronicle.

Chronicle’s web developer, TCwebsite, built a custom reporting system (installed into WordPress) that tracks how many views each article written by a blogger gets, and then CS Change generates a payout based on those view numbers.

Sharing

Social sharing is now the norm. Using links to Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter and other platforms makes it easy for current subscribers to share interesting articles with friends and followers (and help create new paying subscribers – a great form of marketing, and it boils down to the best free form of marketing out there, word of mouth). In Chronicles – the Jetpack plugin has a simple sharing set up page within the WordPress admin panel. Small social media icons show up on pages and/or posts. With the use of the Leaky Paywall plugin, all articles may be shared socially too!

Getting Paid

Stripe's Streamlined SignUp Form
Stripe’s Streamlined SignUp Form

One major change to this site was the obstacle of creating a quick and easy payment option for subscribers. Stripe was the easy choice for payment, not only due to its clean format, but also because it offers recurring subscription payments. Chronicle moved away from PayPal for its subscriptions and kept it only for online donations. This also allowed Chronicle to be relieved of PayPal’s $30/month fee for its “Pro” version. Stripe does not have any of these types of fees. With Stripe Chronicle has a user-friendly one page sign-up form that pops up over the site.

Since Leaky Paywall uses Stripe’s javascript API, no SSL certificate is required to use Leaky Paywall (yet Chronicle chose to install a SSL ensure its subscribers that their data is safe). Using Leaky Paywall’s hooks and filters, custom subscriber fields were added to the default sign up form.

Coupons

A new add-on to the Leaky Paywall plugin (with Stripe integration) is the ability to add coupon codes to subscriptions. The coupon code is entered within the Stripe payment box and can create a percentage discount or an exact dollar amount deduction. It also has the ability to set an expiration date on the coupon. This Leaky Paywall Add-on was just released in August 2015.

How to merge existing subscribers and articles to new wordpress dashboard

Migrating data is not always fun and easy. Since Chronicle already has subscribers, it had to make sure that it was easy to add them to the new WordPress Leaky Paywall subscriber list. The plug-in’s ‘bulk’ add functionality made it easier to add existing subscriber information and also their expiration dates. All the data of the existing users on the old site was migrated to the new site. Once on the new site, the existing users are bulk added into Leaky Paywall using the Bulk Add tool in Leaky Paywall.

Migrating all of the 1,700+ posts and pages from the original site to the new wordpress admin panel was not just a simple CSV import. If you have a publication with this amount of data to migrate – definitely ask for help from a WordPress expert. In Chronicle, the author data, comments and all post information were migrated to maintain all of the original content.

Using Banner Ads to get noticed

Ad Dropper Plugin places ads where you want them (header, sidebar, footer, anywhere in a post with shortcode).
Ad Dropper Plugin places ads where you want them (header, sidebar, footer, anywhere in a post with shortcode).

Everyone asks – do online banner ads really work? The only way to know is to customize them for your audience and to track them. Chronicle uses banner ads to promote (and link to) events, promote Chronicle subscriptions, and show off testimonials. These images/ads are well placed in the header, below the masthead, sidebar and footer. Using the Ad Dropper plugin makes it easy to set up the locations, add content (text, images, video – anything you can add to a post) and track the number of clicks AND views. The trick is to make sure that each ad location is set up with a specific size ad in mind and to create eye-catching imagery. An added bonus is that there is an option to hide ads from paying subscribers in Leaky Paywall. Notice how Chronicle created ad location names with the pixel sizes listed – just a safeguard to make sure ads are consistent in size. In the long run Chronicle is hoping to monetize ads with paying advertisers.

This is the Ad Dropper WordPress admin page - notice how the Ad Zones include the ad size to ensure consistent sizing.
This is the Ad Dropper WordPress admin page – notice how the Ad Zones include the ad size to ensure consistent sizing.

User roles

Chronicle-BloggersWith many different types of users and levels of access – these need to be planned carefully. For example, different types of authors have different levels of access. The paid authors (bloggers), who are not directly employees of Chronicle, have a role called “Contributor”. These folks can login, create an article (post) and add an avatar (image) of themselves directly in WordPress.

Main WordPress Plugins Used

Other Great Plugins Used

The final design and functionality of Chronicle is a clean layout with easy subscriber functionality. While the site looks simple on the surface, underneath the hood lots of moving pieces keep everything running smoothly. If you are ready to improve your publication’s digital experience and grow your readership, ZEEN101, the originators of IssueM, Leaky Paywall, and UniPress have the expertise and know how to work for you.